BRATTLEBORO >> Town Manager Peter Elwell had department heads present "highlights" surrounding the proposed fiscal year 2017 budget.
Preliminary General Fund budget numbers currently anticipate a $731,603 or 4.7 percent increase over FY16. According to Elwell, staff approached the budget with goals of maintaining all current levels of service while containing costs to the greatest degree possible.
Selectboard member John Allen said he was impressed with the departments' number.
"It just seems like they put a lot of thought into it," he said.
"FY17 budget for the police was $1,956,573," Brattleboro Police Chief Mike Fitzgerald said Tuesday. "That is an increase from FY16 of $2,074 or 0.1 percent."
Fitzgerald told the Selectboard his department and its central dispatch operate 24 hours a day for 365 days a year, serving approximately 12,000 residents within 32 square miles. Officers are responsible for crime investigations, responding to over 10,000 service calls a year, but they also process crime scenes, maintain records, appear in court for prosecution and ensure the roadways are safe by enforcing motor vehicle laws.
Previously approved plans to fill the department's authorized 27 slots are expected to assist in alleviating some budgetary concerns over the amount of overtime payment being accrued. Ten months are needed for interviews, sending a new hire to Vermont Police Academy and everything in between. The cost for putting a recruit through academy training is $40,167.
In hopes of filling five vacancies, transportation funding was increased in the proposal as that includes mileage to and from the academy.
More money is being requested for holding prisoners.
"The last several years have shown that we are lodging a higher number of prisoners than the previous year. We are increasing this line item in anticipation of this trend should it continue," said Fitzgerald while also calling attention to the rising costs for meals, blanket laundering and bug extermination.
Next up was Director of Department of Public Works Steve Barrett whose crew covers over 60 miles of paved road, 30 plus miles of gravel road and associated storm drains, sidewalks, traffic lights and parking lots. Also handled are town bridges, street signs and five divisions of utilities.
"In our budget, there isn't a lot of changes," Barrett said. "The overall budget, I think, is a 0.09 increase."
The line item for overtime was proposed to increase to $90,000. But in previous years, more was expended in overtime compensation.
"I think we're just trying to get to that space that is of comfort and we try to look at averages," said Barrett, noting how extreme winter or mud seasons impact the budget.
Salt and equipment rentals saw an increase in the proposal as did retaining walls. Barrett said engineering is expected on some of the smaller structures.
Gasoline was increased in proposals from all departments, Elwell said, in anticipation of the fuel price being higher. Barrett said some DPW vehicles were "converted back to diesel from gas" after not experiencing efficiencies.
Recreation and Parks has nine full-time employees, 40 seasonal employees and hundreds of volunteers, said director Carol Lolatte. Program instructors and service providers are also hired.
"We have nine youth sport leagues, 20 after-school programs for the youth, 15 adult leagues and programs, 15 special events and 30 plus programs for senior citizens," said Lolatte, adding that her department schedules facility use with 13 community organizations and takes reservations for 16 town facilities. "We maintain over 130 acres of parkland, which includes playgrounds, buildings and utilities, in addition to the grass. The areas include 12 mini parks, five traffic islands, five cemeteries and all the facilities within Living Memorial Park, including a 300,000-gallon swimming pool and skating facility. On top of that, we're responsible for the maintenance inside and outside of the Gibson Aiken Center."
A proposed budget increase of $8,445 or 1.1 percent in the department's operating budget addressed rising costs for fuel, electric and utilities.
"The majority of the employees I hire are high school and college kids so what I constantly have for a challenge is keeping up with the minimum wage. That's where you'll see a small increase," said Lolatte, referring to a particular $500 increase for the skating rink staff salary line.
Six smaller departments and the fire department are expected to present budgets during the Dec. 8 board meeting with a final recommended budget to come in the weeks afterward.
Following the first public meeting on possible projects for updating police and fire facilities in town, Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein said he thought it would be useful to schedule time for discussion at Selectboard meetings to address specific items. Those could touch on the relationship between project funding and the operating budget, long-term capital needs and the impact on use and occupancy of the Municipal Center.
"Then we're going to have to turn to process," said Gartenstein. "In terms of how are we going to present this to Town Meeting and, if possible, the voters as a whole."
Counting somewhere between 40 and 45 attendees at the Green Street School meeting, Allen said he thought there was a good turnout.
"They had great questions," Allen said. "And actually for the most part, positive questions. I didn't hear a lot of negative ones."
Two more meetings are scheduled: Monday, Nov. 30, at 6 p.m. in the Academy School gymnasium and Wednesday, Dec. 2, at 6 p.m. in the Brattleboro Area Middle School multipurpose room.